2013-07-17

Things People Should Know: Parkinson's Law Of Triviality

(For people that have to work in groups or have a "project manager")

Also sometimes referred to as the "Bike Shed Problem" or "bikeshedding".

This is the newest phenomenon that I have added to my great list of Things People Should Know. It is not a new concept (first mentioned in 1957) and I have known about it for awhile, but recently I have been noticing it more.

What is the Bike Shed Problem? Let me provide an example: (From Parkinson's book, as quoted in Wikipedia)

In the third chapter, "High Finance, or the Point of Vanishing Interest", Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda.
The first is the signing of a £10 million contract to build a reactor, the second a proposal to build a £350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third proposes £21 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee. 
The £10 million number is too big and too technical, and it passes in two minutes and a half.
The bicycle shed is a subject understood by the board, and the amount within their life experience, so committee member Mr. Softleigh says that an aluminium roof is too expensive and they should use asbestos. Mr. Holdfast wants galvanized iron. Mr. Daring questions the need for the shed at all. Mr. Holdfast disagrees. 
Parkinson then writes: "The debate is fairly launched. A sum of £350 is well within everybody's comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some £50. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment." 
Parkinson then described the third agenda item, writing: "There may be members of the committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized iron, but every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting."

So, now that you know about Parkinson's Law Of Triviality, hopefully you will be able to better recognize when others do it and when you do it yourself. It is a natural thing to want to give input when you can, but don't let it become a hindrance to getting the most important things done.

If you know ultimately that a feature really doesn't matter, then make sure you work on the important stuff first. Also, be aware, don't always think you know better than others.

More Reading:
- Coding Horror
- Wikipedia

~ Simply Advanced ~



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